In the wake of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s dismissal, questions linger about the trajectory of the American-led war in Afghanistan. While administration officials insist that McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy—formulated with the help of his successor, Gen. David Petraeus—will remain in place under the latter’s leadership, the incident underscored for many the fragility of the Afghan operation as it enters its ninth year. Pakistani officials have recently stepped up their efforts to broker a peace accord between Hamid Karzai’s Afghan government and the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani. The impetus for such negotiations is what some Pakistani officials see to be “increasing American uncertainty” in the war effort. In light of that perceived weakness and lack of commitment, Pakistan may be gesturing the possibility of a stronger partnership with Hamid Karzai.
Pakistani officials claim to be able to deliver the network of Haqqani, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda, into a power-sharing arrangement. According to the report, negotiations have been underway for some time, with Pakistan’s Army Chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the nation’s spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, conducting shuttle diplomacy between Islamabad and Kabul. But the lack of details given to Washington raises concern in some U.S. circles that the negotiations will not only push Karzai further away, but conclude with a separate peace between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban, leaving American interests to the side and Al Qaeda a base from which to operate.
Some, including President Obama and CIA Director Leon Panetta, are more skeptical that a peace can be reached in the near term. While Pakistani intelligence and military officials claim the Haqqanis are willing to break with Al Qaeda, many believe that the relationship is too close, and that the negotiations are simply a way of fending off impending military action in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. While he acknowledged that progress in Afghanistan has been coming more slowly than anticipated, Panetta opined on television that the U.S. has “seen no evidence that [the Taliban] are truly interested in reconciliation.” Indeed, because of that very lack of progress, many American officials believe the Taliban have no motivation to negotiate seriously, and that they won’t until they fear a military defeat. President Obama also expressed skepticism, and stressed the varied makeup of the organization, warning that it was “too early to tell” whether the efforts being made to broker a peace accord were genuine. Administration officials worry that the Haqqani network will be unwilling or unable to break from its more radical elements.
Meanwhile, in an interview that emphasized the potentially varied markup of the coalition forces, the head of the British army, Gen. Sir David Richards, said on BBC Radio this past weekend that talks with the Taliban should start “pretty soon.” Whether Richards’ view represents a substantive disagreement with his American counterparts’ is unclear. The beginning of operations in Kandahar should bring some clarity, if not to the war, at least to the various parties’ understanding of how to move forward diplomatically.
Image courtesy of Reuters.